You Never Can Tell (play)

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You Never Can Tell is an 1897 four-act play by George Bernard Shaw that debuted at the Royalty Theatre. It was published as part of a volume of Shaw's plays entitled Plays Pleasant. In June 2011, the play was revived at the Coliseum Theatre in Aberystwyth, Wales, where it had been performed exactly one century earlier.

The play is set in a seaside town and tells the story of Mrs Clandon and her three children, Dolly, Phillip and Gloria, who have just returned to England after an eighteen-year stay in Madeira.

The children have no idea who their father is and, through a comedy of errors, end up inviting him to a family lunch. At the same time a dentist named Valentine has fallen in love with the eldest daughter, Gloria. However, Gloria considers herself a modern woman and claims to have no interest in love or marriage.

The play continues with a comedy of errors and confused identities, with the friendly and wise waiter, Walter (most commonly referred to by the characters as "William," because Dolly thinks he resembles Shakespeare), dispensing his wisdom with the titular phrase "You Never Can Tell."


  • Dolly Clandon, twin to Philip
  • Philip Clandon, twin to Dolly
  • Mr. (or Dr.) Valentine, the dentist
  • Gloria Clandon, the eldest daughter
  • Mrs. Clandon, the mother
  • Mr. Fergus Crampton, the landlord and father
  • Walter, the waiter
  • Mr. Finch McComas, a solicitor
  • Bohun, a QC (Queens Counsel)
  • The parlor maid
  • Jo, another waiter


Time: One Day in August 1896

Place: An English seaside resort

Act I
A dentist's office
Act II
The Terrace of The Marine Hotel
The Clandons sitting room at The Marine Hotel
Act IV
The Clandons sitting room at The Marine Hotel - Later at Night

In performance[edit]

You Never Can Tell has also been performed at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario several times: in 1963, 1973, 1979, 1988, 1995 and most recently in 2005.

Audio Adaptations[edit]

The CBC broadcast a production in 1973 with Frances Hyland as Mrs. Clandon, Tony Van Bridge as Mr. Crampton, Chris Wiggins as William the Waiter, Maureen Fitzgerald as Gloria, Drew Russell as Valentine and William Osler as Mr. Bohun.

The BBC broadcast a production on 29 September 2013 directed by [[Martin Jarvis (actor)}Martin Jarvis]] and starring Ian Ogilvy as William the Waiter, Jamie Bamber as Valentine, Christopher Neame as Mr. Crampton, Moira Quirk as Dolly, Adam Godley as Mr. McComas and Rosalind Ayres as Mrs Clandon.[1]